First Lesson: Hebrews 11:8-12
Children’s story: Genesis 18:16-33
August 9, 2015
I do love the story of Abraham. It’s strong and juicy and unpredictable and sometimes funny and often very tragic. Abraham is one of the Fathers of our faith, and you know his story well. He was a friend of God, and he followed God into some pretty amazing places. He was also a scoundrel as you know very well. He’s a complicated character, that Abraham.
So here’s the story: or part of it, at least: Once upon a time there was a man named Abram. He lived with his wife Sarai in a placed called Haran. He was seventy-five years old, and he was fabulously wealthy. He had huge herds of sheep and goats and oxen and he had a multitude of servants to care for all his herds and his animals and his home. One day this Abram was sitting very happily indeed in his own country among his own family, on his own land, and God comes to him out of the blue, and God says to Abram “get up from where you are and go to the place I will show you.” Now this is a pretty strange thing to say to somebody right out of the blue, when he was sitting perfectly happily in his own country, among his own family, on his own land, so God adds in a promise: “I will make your name great and I will bless you and you will be a blessing.” And apparently, according to the story, Abram got right up and packed up all his possessions and all of his people and all of his animals, and his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and set out to follow God. And we honor his obedience. And we say, “This must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
Before it was all over, he had traveled a thousand miles with all those thousands of goats and sheep and oxen and camels and all his servants and all of their children. And all the while along the way, Abram is building altars to God, and making sacrifices to God, and having intimate conversations with God. And all along the way God is saying to Abraham, “I will bless you. And you will be a blessing. I will give you an uncountable number of descendants. I will make you a great nation. And I will give you land.”
And all along the way, here’s what happened to Abraham. When he got to where he was going, there was a terrible drought in that country, so he continued on south to Egypt where there was food for all his animals and all his people and his wife and his nephew Lot and himself. But he was a little nervous about how the king of Egypt would receive him, coming barging into his country with all those extra people and animals to feed, and he was afraid for his life. But his wife Sarai was very beautiful. So he passed her off as his sister, and gave her to king Pharaoh of Egypt to add to his harem. (I do wonder how Sarai felt about that.) And in return for a beautiful addition to his harem, the king of Egypt gave Abram even more sheep and goats and oxen and camels and even more servants. Until the king found out that Sarai was actually his wife. The king was furious, of course, and he sent Abram and all his animals and all of his people out of the country as fast as they could go. Running for their lives. And we say to ourselves, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless?”
And the next thing you know, Abram and his nephew Lot have decided that there’s not enough grass in one place for all their herds and to feed all their people, so they stand on top of a hill and survey the area. And Abram allows Lot to choose the richest, most fertile valley of Sodom and Gomorrah for himself. While he makes do with what’s left. We honor his generosity. And we say to ourselves, “This must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
And all the while, God is promising, “I will bless you. And you will be a blessing. I will give you an uncountable number of descendants. I will make you a great nation. And I will give you land.” And all along, wherever he goes, Abram is having conversations with God and building altars and making sacrifices to God. He is also having conversations the all the kings of the region, and negotiating contracts with them and fighting wars with them. A powerful man, that Abraham.
And for ten years, Abraham trusts that promise of an uncountable number of descendants. But after about ten years of hearing all that and of waiting for even one little child, Abram got tired of that and had a child by Sarai’s Egyptian slave, Hagar. Which caused all sorts of jealousy and bitterness in the household as you can well imagine. When the slave woman conceived a long awaited child and the wife did not. Hagar hated her mistress Sarai and treated her disrespectfully. Sarai was furious with Abram for doing what he had done, and she treated Hagar harshly and finally, as you remember, Hagar ran away into the dessert, where she would have died. And we say to ourselves, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless?” This man who talks so intimately with God and who is so generous and so wealthy and who is accustomed to having conversations with kings wherever he goes. Can’t he even keep peace in his own household? Does he have to behave so foolishly?
And then you remember that Abraham had to intervene for his nephew Lot, living there in Sodom. That was the story that I told the children just a few moments ago. And you heard how Abraham had the audacity to bargain with God for the life of his nephew Lot. And we are amazed and we are secretly impressed at Abraham – that he would dare to strike such a hard bargain with God. And we say to ourselves, “Certainly this must be the man whom God wants to bless.”
And then it happened again. Once again there is Abraham traveling toward Egypt to a place called Gerar. And once again he is apparently a little nervous about how he’ll be received by the king there. And for the second time he introduces his beautiful wife Sarai as his sister and for the second time, he gave his wife to the king of Gerar for his harem. And when the king of Gerar found out that Sarai was really Abram’s wife, he was furious, of course, and sent them all packing again – running for their lives again. And we want to say again, “Can this be the man whom God wants to bless? The man who makes a bad mistake the second time?”
But that is the man God blessed. That’s the man whom God gave land. That’s the man whose descendants are uncountable. The story of Abram has been told now for 4,000 years. In all its juicy, beautiful, ugly details. Abram is one of our Fathers in the Faith. He is referred to in the New Testament as one of the Heroes of Faith along with Sarah. We read that just a minute ago in the scripture and in our Presbyterian Statement of Faith.
And now this: You and I are all pretty much like Abraham. We are obedient and we are dis-obedient. We are generous and we are stingy. We are brave and we are fearful. We believe and we doubt. We talk intimately with God and then we forget about God for long periods of time. We pray fervently for a very long time and we bargain with God and when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, we take matters into our own hands. We live in painful, troubled families and we have to acknowledge that we are part of the trouble, at least some of the time. We make big mistakes and we don’t learn from them. We say things that aren’t true and we say hurtful things that we can never take back. We make solemn promises to God and others and we break them. That’s who we are. That’s the sorry little mess that we are.
And we deposit ourselves in front of God in the sorry little messes that we are, and we acknowledge all that.
And then we hear God say to us, “I will be your God. I will bless you and you will be blessing.” And it begins to soak into our sorry little selves that we are the much loved children of God and we have been richly blessed.
Because that’s who our God is. We may have a lot of questions about God and there may be a great many things we don’t know or understand about God. But beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, hear this: Our God is the God who sees us make our messes all over our lives and loves us anyway. Our God is the God who sees when we break our promises and stays faithful to us anyway. Our God is the God who stands by us and rescues us when we’re in trouble of our own making. Our God is the God who loves us wherever we are and however we are, and whatever we are doing no matter how foolish it is, and keeps faithful to us. If you don’t know anything else about God, know that. If your life is a messy and painful and you wonder where God is, know that. If you experience the deep pleasure of intimacy with God and long conversations with God, know that. If you feel that God is calling you to do something way out of your comfort zone and you’re not sure you can follow God quite that far, know that.
And let yourself be held in the loving hands of the God who will never abandon you.